Subject: SMH Opinion: Terror now a delaying tactic in East Timor
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:29:46 +0000
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Sydney Morning Herald 14/06/99


Terror now a delaying tactic in East Timor

The Indonesian army hopes continuing terror will stall the August 8 poll.


THE Indonesian Army (ABRI) is doing everything in its power to delay the vote on East Timor's future.

The tactic is to violate in every way possible the United Nations agreement covering the August poll. This means not disarming the militias (but giving them formal police powers), not arresting any of the known militia murderers, and promoting pro-integration propaganda.

Only a month ago - when the Indonesian and Portuguese governments signed the agreement to "consult" the East Timorese on their future - some observers thought ABRI might actually comply with the pact signed by its Government.

But it became obvious that the murderous pro-Indonesian gangs which had been armed and trained by ABRI continued to receive its full support for their reign of terror.

The Australian Government at first spoke of "rogue elements" in the Indonesian military, but now all pretence has been dropped and Foreign Affairs and Defence officials openly state that ABRI is fully behind the pro-Indonesian paramilitaries and, by implication, in flagrant violation of the UN agreement.

ABRI's strategy is clear. When the Habibie Government decided in January to give the East Timorese a say in their future, ABRI set out to protect its massive financial stake in East Timor, either by preventing the promised referendum or by manipulating the outcome in favour of integration with Indonesia.

The infamous militias were set up within weeks and thousands of firearms distributed to them. Figures such as Eurico Guterres and Basilio Araujo, completely unknown six months ago, were set up by ABRI as "pro-integration leaders" and stood for Golkar in the Indonesian election last week.

While the arrival of UN observers in East Timor has apparently curtailed militia activities in Dili, it must be assumed that ABRI's strategy of preventing or subverting the East Timorese vote on August 8 will gather momentum now that the Indonesian election is out of the way.

For ABRI, the possibility of preventing the vote has become increasingly remote, with the UN now firmly on the ground in Dili. Instead, the generals are seriously trying to delay the vote by several months - hence the violations of the UN agreement.

The aim is to convince the UN that the East Timorese are not ready for a free and fair vote and that it should be postponed. If the international community succumbs to this argument, the small window of opportunity to achieve peace in East Timor - opened by President B.J. Habibie in January - would close rapidly.

First, ABRI would have the opportunity to extend the militias' stranglehold from a couple of western districts to the rest of East Timor. Second, any delay would allow ABRI to undermine Falintil, and therefore Xanana Gusmao. Falintil, East Timor's national army, has acted with amazing discipline and restraint by not retaliating against militia violence and by strictly observing its ceasefire against ABRI while East Timorese civilians have been terrorised by ABRI and the militias.

It is difficult to see how Falintil could tolerate such a situation much longer without a serious political setback to Gusmao himself, who would be made to appear weak. It is equally clear that any political damage to Gusmao in the run-up to the vote will damage the peace process, given that Gusmao must have a central role in the reconciliation and nation-building that will follow the August poll.

So it is essential the international community press for the vote to take place on August 8, irrespective of ABRI's campaign of destabilisation.

Australia must strengthen its support for the UN agreement and for a free and fair vote. We must also brace ourselves for the possibility that members of the UN observer force and the international police forces, including our own, may be hurt as ABRI tries to break the will of the UN to go ahead with the poll.

This possibility can be reduced only by relentless pressure on Indonesia by Australia, together with the United States and the Europeans, to implement the terms of the UN agreement, particularly the disarming of the militias and significant troop withdrawals from East Timor.

The opportunity for peace will close again if the vote on August 8 is either postponed or manipulated to such an extent that the will of the East Timorese is not reflected in the outcome.

In the case of such a manipulated outcome, it is difficult to see how the international community could hand East Timor back to ABRI for further genocide and brutal financial exploitation. A community that has created an international war crimes tribunal and has stood up to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo is unlikely to tolerate a group of corrupt, insubordinate and dishonoured Indonesian generals continuing their reign of terror.

The prospect for peace and stability in East Timor would be very slim.

Such a win for ABRI in East Timor would also bode ill for the future of Indonesia. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas's quip that East Timor was "just a pebble in Indonesia's shoe" has always been a deliberate understatement of East Timor's significance for Indonesia.

East Timor is an unfailing indicator of how far Indonesia has moved towards democracy. It would be disastrous for Indonesia's democratic future if the Indonesian armed forces were to get away with openly defying their own government by subverting the UN agreement for a free and fair consultation of the East Timorese people.

The world has a huge interest in not letting ABRI stall peace and democracy in East Timor.

Michael Wagner is chairman of the East Timor Foundation.

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